I’m fascinated with creativity. Where does it come from? How is it engaged? What kinds of things bring it closer or push it away? I started painting at Vassar. I tried to channel Pollack, de Kooning and Kline. I stretched canvas and started creating. This post is about five hard won creativity lessons, Martin's Creativity Rules are:
Martin’s Creativity Rule One: Fake It Until You Make It
It is possible to think about creativity. Let’s do a simple mind experiment. Think about the last time you made love. Hold that thought, roll it around and really examine it. Now stop thinking and make love. And the winner is? Doing something is always more engaging, informative and FUN than thinking about doing something. It is impossible to change who you are and what you do without a feedback loop. Feedback requires an external source (in some capacity). My first paintings didn’t win many fans. I kept painting and, eventually, received invitations to include paintings in shows, sold several early canvases and was asked to paint the 3rd floor rec room in Vassar’s Main Building (this mural was gone the last time I visited). The call from the Whitney Biennial never came, but it didn’t matter. I faked it until I made it. I worked through failure, incorporated ideas from others, practiced with intent (focused practice) and created what I wanted – Martin as painter.
Martin’s Creativity Rule Two: Nothing Sucks
The hyper-judgment we are taught is a natural enemy to creativity. We snap judge everything all the time. Suspending such reflex action is HARD but necessary. Creativity is not one thing. Creativity is a process. This means you really never know what will be valuable and when. Judgment affects thinking and process. Evaluate if something is moving you closer or further away from your vision, but don't attach pejorative associations. Anything is acceptable and it is all-good. If something doesn’t move you closer then store it and remember it. You will find a place for it somewhere sometime. My art, at its core, is collage. I study and admire Robert Rauschenberg, Kurt Schwitters and Joseph Cornell. Look at their work. What is clear, in even casual inspection, is these guys had boxes and boxes of stuff just waiting for a home. Nothing is bad. Everything has a home. You may not have its home today, tomorrow or next year, but you'll find it and you will know it instantly.
Martin’s Creativity Rule Three: Taking Credit Destroys Creativity
Creativity comes when ego is submerged. Elkhart Tolle mentions how you lose yourself when you are completely emerged in a problem . When there is no distinction between you, your work process and the problem you ego is submerged. Often, when you are in this deep, solutions find you. Suddenly, it seems easy to create. Ego is limitation. Ego ties you to a shallow, narcissistic place with limited optioins. Ego can’t live as anything other than the MAIN thing. Focus all energy on a problem and ego is, at best, number two. Ego’s only job is reproductive dominance. Once you learn how to force your ego into the back seat creative control is around the corner.
Credit is ego. Look at your creations like a meaningful gift. This will help you escape ego’s credit game. When you look for your boss’s approval, your father’s recognition or society’s rewards (fame) you are looking for credit. When you claim credit you move away from creativity. Remember the ego doesn’t want to ride shotgun to anything. Taking credit means your ego is driving and creativity got kicked out at the last stop. Creativity requires focus, being in touch with the moment and being open to suggestion. Ego is incapable of any of these, so ego is creativity’s natural enemy.
This is one of those “do as I say, not as I do” deals. Pushing my ego out of the car is hard, requires constant vigilance and practice. I practiced today. Our site is having a great year. At my boss’s request, I summarized our accomplishment as a “village” accomplishment (as in “it takes a village”) and pointed out a handful of people whose contributions were key. Some things were serendipitous. Oprah discussed one of our products (don’t get much more Oprah Effect Serendipitous than that). Some things were planned (Valentine’s Day). Some things were dogs that didn’t hunt (didn’t dwell on those). None of us can accomplish ANYTHING alone anymore. This means claiming credit is goofystupid. When someone tries to give you credit move it over to others so you can keep creating. The best drug is creating. The minute you have that rush you have to have it again and as many times as possible.
This advice goes against the “blow your own horn” thing. I’ve done that. It always made me feel like I needed a shower. Don’t blow your own horn. Use "blow your own horn" energy to get lost in passionate engagement. You won’t have to worry about horn blowing. People will seek you out. They will hear about your creative powers and ask for your help. Always help. Helping others expecting nothing is one place where creativity lives (and a lot of other good things too). When they seek you out try not let it go to your head. Remember it was your abilities NOT to let things go to your head that brought them to you. Borrowed ides here from Love Is The Killer App by Tim Sanders.
Martin’s Creativity Rule Four: Least Expected, Most Common
Ever notice how you get your best ideas when your mind is otherwise occupied? I have a pad next to the bed because ideas come like quicksilver messages just before sleep. I watched a show about Rolling Stones lead singer Mick Jagger recently. Mick works ALL THE TIME. He is constantly grabbing a thought and putting it in a notebook. He doesn’t judge he just captures and stores. Mick could be on a beach sipping cool drinks with little umbrellas, but he isn’t. Instead he is working his tiny butt off. The most creative people have the smallest egos, practice like they play and are addicted to losing themselves in creativity.
Martin’s Creativity Rule Five: Negative Comments and Failure Are GOOD
You are going to fail. There is a powerful person in my company who goes out of their way to say mean, nasty things (to me and others). Defend against those negative comments and YOU LOSE. You lose because you are not responding. Your ego is responding. Remember, the ego’s only real job is its own continued dominance. When someone belittles you in front of others who is hurt? Defend and it is you. Ignore, be kind, grateful and welcoming and you keep EGO in the back seat. People always gravitate to creative people. Some find creative people threatening. If they can pull you into an ego war their life is justified and correct. Don’t do it. Stay true to your creativity by knowing that some will be mean, negative and look to destroy what you’ve created.
You never fail when your creative process is ego-free, focused and questioning. You, your life and who you are moves and learns. Moving and learning is NEVER a failure. It may feel like failure when you don’t get what you want. Wait, who cares about getting what YOU want? Yes, Mr. ego is who. You care about creativity, so Mr. Ego is in check. It is all-good. Keep creating.
** Picture at top was taken a few decades ago. I am standing in the converted elevator shaft I used as my studio. None of those paintings are still with us, so do as I say not as I do (LOL).